Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gleanings from the Odd Book Bookshelf: No. 1, Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki

Although trained in the laws of librarianship, I find I have never ordered my library according to any rules, even those of the thumb. Binding, colour, and author tend to guide my eye and hand as I arrange books on the shelf; more aesthetics than bibliographics (if I may coin a word use). So my "Odd Book Bookshelf" is rather imaginary for the books are found on various shelves in different locations. Perhaps they harbour desires of shelf-hood and my initiating this series is at their silent beckoning, such is the mysterious nature of the book.

The book in question, Japanese Fairy Tales compiled by Yei Theodora Ozaki (New York: A. L. Burt Company) is a reprint copy likely from the 1920s. It is not a valuable book, nor is it hard to find especially with the internet horn of plenty. The binding of black cloth with orange/red titles is likely from the late 1920s or early 1930s, and it is a style which seems to have been in fashion during this period, books by such authors as Rafael Sabatini, Knut Hamsun, and many others were published with similar bindings. It is the binding style that made me arrange such books together on a shelf, the black bindings and orange/red titles forming an aesthetic continuity even though the actual texts vary significantly. A copy of Scaramouche sitting beside a reprint copy of Brave New World may seem odd but for the binding style.

The book was first published under the Andrew Lang inspired title, The Japanese Fairy Book in 1903 by Archibald Constable & Co. in London, and by E. P. Dutton in New York. It included four colour plates and 62 black and white illustrations in the text. Constable issued a second impression in 1904, a third impression in 1906, a fourth impression in 1908, and a New Edition in 1922, dropping the four colour plates and introducing colour illustrated endpapers by Take Sato.

The copy I have, the A. L. Burt reprint, does not have the colour plates and provides only a selection of the illustrations. This publisher began business in the early 1880s in New York and began to print cheap editions of the classics and eventually came out with "Burt's Home Library" which was popular. (The Discourses of Epictetus was a title in this series and it that makes me think of a favourite story by Stephen Leacock, where a bookstore owner, a Mr. Sellyer would direct his scholarly time-wasting browsers to the back of the shop to peruse the cheap reprints of classics, while he pushed the most recent publications of perhaps dubious value on the unsuspecting public.) In the early years of the last century, A. L. Burt competed with the rival Grosset & Dunlop for the rights to reprint works, mainly fiction, and were successful in the areas of popular fiction and children's books; such authors as Henty, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Conan Doyle, and Edgar Wallace were issued by them. In the 1930s, A. L. Burt was bought by Blue Ribbon Books, a company who also specialized in cheap reprints. (Blue Ribbon Books began using the term "pop up" for their movable books, and it is a term which has certainly outlived their background story.)

The story of Yei Theodora Ozaki (1870-19--) is an interesting one. She was an independent, strong young woman who chose her own path and found her way through literature and teaching. The basic outlines of her life would provide the structure for an interesting movie.

Ozaki Saburo (1842-1918), a junior diplomat of the Meiji period, was in London in 1868 to learn the English language and customs and he boarded with William Mason Morrison (1819-1885) a scholar and private tutor. Ozaki Saburo became close to Morrison's daughter, Bathia Catherine and they were married in 1869. She gave birth to three daughters, Yei Theodora in 1870, Masako Maude in 1872, and Kimiko Florence in 1873. Their father returned to Japan in 1873 leaving his wife and daughters in London. Bathia never visited Japan and she was later divorced in 1881. At the age of 16, Yei went to Japan to stay with her father now a high ranking politician. While there, she grew to know Mrs. Hugh Fraser, the wife of the British Envoy to Tokyo.

Seeing that Yei did not want to participate in an arranged marriage, Mrs. Fraser suggested she come and live with them as her companion and secretary to which Yei accepted. When the Frasers travelled to Italy, Yei accompanied them and while there, she was introduced to Mrs. Fraser's (née Mary Crawford)
famous brother the writer Francis Marion Crawford who hired her to catalogue his substantial library. She was like an elder sister or young aunt to the writer's daughters, telling them many of the Japanese fairy stories found in her first book. Her dedication to this book is to Eleanor Marion-Crawford, the daughter who would inherit her father's modest palace in Sorrento. Eleanor's sister, Clare, according to one source, went on to be a nun and she served her order in Japan where she is buried.

When she returned to live and teach in Japan, she began receiving the mail of the rather handsome dashing Yukio Ozaki (1858-1954) a prominent individual who happened to be the Mayor of Tokyo. When they finally met, a deep friendship developed and they were married in 1904. In the year 1912, Yukio Ozaki, as Mayor of Tokyo, organized a gift of 3,000 blossoming cherry trees for Washington D.C., cherry trees that continue to be celebrated to this day. The spring of 2012 will be the 100th anniversary of this gift and there will be special celebrations in Washington during the National Cherry Blossom Festival from March 20th to April 27th, 2012.

Books by Yei Theodora Ozaki:

The Japanese Fairy Book, 1903.
Buddha's Crystal and other Fairy Stories, 1908.
Warriors of Old Japan, 1909.
Romances of Old Japan, 1919. (as Madame Yukio Ozaki)

The writings of Yukio Ozaki were collected in 12 volumes, Works, Ozaki Gakudo Zenshu (Tokyo: Koronsha, 1955). A recent English edition of his autobiography was published by Princeton in 2001, The Autobiography of Ozaki Yukio: The Struggle for Constitutional Government in Japan.

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